Advertising's obituary has been written many times. In fact, if The Google is to be believed, more than 1 billion times.
And who can blame the gloom sayers? Advertising is a business in serious trouble. Like other middle-men, the internet has made the gap between supply and demand so short the man in the street can get the best deals on anything from travel to property with a simple hop, skip and a click. No mess, no fuss and certainly no agents required.
For decades, the advertising business got away with murder. A lot of work it produced was based on instinct and gut feel. And lucky for the great agencies of the 70s, 80s and 90s, they were driven by great maverick thinkers who could create magic work based on their gut instinct. I am thinking of the great creative directors of the ilk of Arden, Hegarty, Clow, French, Saatchi and Sinclair. To name just a few. But really, the greats were only a few. Many, many more impersonators have been seated at layout pads and fed absolute schlock to unsuspecting clients.
And these clients have been growing restless. The adage "half my advertising budget is wasted, problem is I don't know which half" is said in jest. But in the tail of satire there is always the sting of truth.
Now, let's just cut to another parallel industry for a moment. Journalism.
Every four years, the US media machine goes completely bonkers in following the pursuit of those who wish to become the leader of the free world. And again, this year, some wild claims have been made. So much so that most Americans (and the world) went to bed on November 6 thinking the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would be "too close to call." One or two "data nerds", notably FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, steadfastly predicted an Obama landslide and their final prediction tipped the incumbent to a 90% chance of winning.
Mr. Silver was not even close. He was dead on. On the money. 100% strike rate. So much so, that Jon Stewart crowned him "Lord and god of the algorithm."
Nobody can ever underestimate the earth quake that hit political punditry. All those countless hours of talking heads on TV, banging on for hours, speculating, flattened by a solid 9 on the data Silver Scale of finely tuned spreadsheets and math.
Now, let's cut back to Madison Avenue. What can agencies learn from what happened to journalism, what clients want from a creative partner and the rise of the numbers?
This: That the three remaining forces in advertising is
- Data - see above
- Design - the outward shape of insight
- Delivery - design made real
An agency that has tight control over these three Dees and know how to chain them together will be able to use the power of the numbers to create unbelievably good work. Lots of Nate Silvers, feeding real insight from real numbers of real consumer behaviour and needs to creative professionals who are geared to deliver their designs in what format the data suggests.
In the same way that FiveThirtyEight destroyed the pundits, this approach will bring an end to the bullshit in our industry.
The age of data, metrics and the internet does not hail the death of this business, but the resurrection thereof.